Ghana v Egypt, Africa Cup of Nations final, January 31, 2010
If the truth be told, Angola 2010 has been somewhat of a disappointment.
Suffering from the Togolese machine gun attack that undermined the tournament even before a ball was kicked, a spate of terrible refereeing decisions, poor goalkeeping performances across the board, and a general bad attitude of many of the nations participating in the African Cup of Nations has left to competition far from being a classic.
The shining lights have nevertheless been Egypt who, having won every match so far and playing some fine team football in the process, deservedly are in the final where they are aiming to record an unprecedented third back-to-back ACN victory – a feat which has never been achieved in the history of the games. (Egypt are 2/1 to win in 90 minutes, 10/1 to win in extra time.)
En route to the final, Egypt, who will themselves miss out on the World Cup later this year, have beaten three of the five African World Cup finalists set to be in South Africa this summer. And without doubt the sweetest of those victories came in the 4-nil hammer of arch-rivals Algeria in the semi-finals as the Pharaohs got a little bit of revenge on the nation who denied them the opportunity of appearing on the world’s greatest stage. (8/13 to be under 32.5 goals, 6/4 to be over.)
The good news keeps coming for Egypt coach Hassan Shehata, whose side will be big favourites in the final, as reports give his squad a clean bill of health.
Of the players to watch out for, captain Ahmed Hassan has been nothing short of spectacular in this tournament for the reigning champs. The 34-year-old attacking midfielder collected his 170th international cap against Cameroon earlier in the tournament, and he has deserved all the praise he gets, especially considering that he is shouldering a lot of the weight in midfield with Mohamed Aboutrika out with an injury.
Further forward, Mohamed Nagy Gedo (2/1 to score) is quickly becoming a crowd favorite for all Egyptians with his stunning efficiency in front of goal. After scoring the fourth goal against Algeria in the semis the striker took his incredible international tally to five goals in seven games for his country, increasingly the pressure on leading goal-getters Emad Metab and Mohamed Zidan (6/5 to score), who have also been in sparkling form in Angola.
While many may have predicted Egypt’s place in the final, Ghana have upset the odds in reaching the last match of the tournament.
Devoid of the likes of Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari, Steven Appiah, the young Black Stars squad were not expected to do much in Angola. As the pre-tournament concern look justified in the earlier round of the competition as Ghana slumped to a 3-1 defeat to the Ivory Coast in their first game in Group B and then laboured to a 1-0 victory over Burkina Faso.
Since Ghana have proved themselves to be a dogged team who are difficult to beat. With the keeper of the tournament Richard Kingston between their posts, Ghana eeked out 1-nil victories against hosts Angola in the quarters and against Nigeria in the semis to secure their final berth. (Ghana are 14/5 to keep a clean sheet, 30/100 against.)
Against the Flying Eagles in the semis, coach Milovan Rajevac was able to call upon Rosenborg-midfielder Anthony Annan for the first time, and the midfield enforcer made his presence count in the centre of the pitch. Annan will line up in the final instructed to do the same destructive job, which should allow slightly more freedom to Ghana’s leading duo – playmaker Kwadwo Asamoah and striker Asamoah Gyan. (Ghana are 20/1 to win both halves.)
Gyan, who carries the downbeat reputation of missing far more than he scores, has reversed that tendancy in Angola by netting three times including the winners in both the quarters and semis. Gyan’s partner in crime has been the brilliant Udinese midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah, who on both occasions acted as the provider for the Black Stars poacher and has proven himself capable of unlocking defences with his defence-splitting passes.
The final stands to be an exciting clash of styles as the expansive, attacking football of the north Africans comes up against the resolute, counter-attacking Ghanaians. If justice was to have its way then the Pharaohs should go on the claim the title for their brilliant football throughout the games, but football is rarely so straight-forward and Ghana have more than enough talent to upset the odds.
101gg predicts: Ghana 1 – Egypt 2 (10/1)
Full match odds here.